Anthony Hilton: Lawyers have earned their place in the boardroom


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The Independent Online

Breakfast on Wednesday was shared with a group of lawyers who are lobbying to get more of their number appointed as non-executive directors once they have retired from their legal partnerships.

The legal industry is one of the great strengths of London. The big London law firms have become truly global organisations since the City was internationalised in the 1980s. Indeed, they are unique among the British businesses of the time to have seized the opportunities of globalisation and still managed to retain their independence. If listed on the stock market the top firms would be big enough to be in the FTSE 100. And yet public company chairmen and head-hunters think lawyers don’t have the business credentials to serve on boards.

This seems to me to display a complete lack of awareness of what businesses need, particularly the vast majority of businesses which are not international giants. The people who run companies in the FTSE 250, and below, need someone to talk to – someone whom they can bounce ideas off, and rely on for objective advice. They do not need someone who tells them how to run the business; they do need someone who can spot if they are going off at a tangent, missing an opportunity or doing something which, if it goes wrong, could land the whole enterprise in trouble.

People who have spent their lives as advisers – which obviously includes lawyers – would seem to be well-suited to this.